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Mississippi Leads the Nation for At-Risk Youth, According to New Study

It’s not easy being young and the teens and young adults in the U.S. today often have the cards stacked against them for success without a supportive environment and positive role model. While there are more students enrolling in college today than ever before, there are still those who fall behind in both academics and the workforce. According to social science research from Measure of America, for every eight young people between the ages of 16 to 24 who are working or attending school, one person is doing neither. That’s around 4.9 million young people falling behind in society.

Among the states where young people are the most at risk of neither working nor going to school, Mississippi leads the nation according to a new study from WalletHub. Louisiana, New Mexico, Alabama, and West Virginia rounded out the top five, while Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, Utah, and North Dakota, were the states where young people were the lowest at risk.

To determine which states young people were most at risk for falling behind in society, researchers for the study compared the 50 states and District of Columbia across 10 key factors, assigning them points based on a 100-point scale. A score of 100 points represented the highest potential for young people being at risk (thankfully no state hit the 100-point mark).

The factors in which states were graded ranged from percentage of homeless youth and young people living below the poverty line to the percentage of young people battling obesity or who were drug users. No state was in the top five of each category, though Mississippi led Louisiana by three points overall with a score of 72.75. North Dakota had a score of 21 while Utah and New Hampshire both had scores of 25.

According to data from Measure of America, the two minority groups most at risk of being unemployed and not in school are Native American (25.4 percent) and African American (18.9 percent) young people.

Murray Fortner, a professor of psychology and sociology at Tarrant County College, said that it’s essential for young African American children to see examples of educated people as early as possible. “As a country and as educators, we must rethink the socialization process,” Fortner said. “There was a time when we connected 'social mobility' to education, especially in African-American communities. We must start early, with more emphasis on the values of education, and young children must see more examples of educated people.” Fortner added that as an African American, he sees a disconnect between education and the youth in his community. “The Black community has become an 'entertainment-industrial complex.' Most of the visible examples of wealth are either entertainers or athletes, education optional,” he said.

Steering a child down the right track can often be a delicate line for parents though. There are two sides to the equation: young people need limits, but they must also learn to make their own choices. Having a parent or even non-parental role model can make all the difference and is something Cristina Morgo-Wilson, a professor at the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work, stresses for parents.

“Youth perception of parental love and warmth makes a difference on the risky decisions they make,” said Morgo-Wilson.

Nevada led the study for the highest percentage of young people without a high school diploma, while Hawaii had the lowest percentage.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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